Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says Pakistan is “compiling hard evidence of India’s involvement” in terrorist attacks on Pakistan’s public and its armed forces. If he and the Interior Minister are correct, then we must conclude that the Indians are psychotics possessed with a death wish or, perhaps, plain stupid. While India’s assistance for Baloch insurgents could conceivably make strategic sense, helping the jihadists simply does not.
As Pakistan staggers from one bombing to the other, some Indians must be secretly pleased. Indeed, there are occasional verbalisations: Is this not sweet revenge for the horrors of Mumbai perpetrated by the Lashkar-e-Taiba? Shouldn’t India feel satisfied as Pakistan reels under the stinging poison of its domestically reared snakes?
But most Indians are probably less than enthusiastic in stoking the fires across the border. In fact, the majority would like to forget that Pakistan exists. With a 6 per cent growth rate, booming hi-tech exports, and expectations of a semi-superpower status, they feel India has no need to engage a struggling Pakistan with its endless litany of problems.
Of course, some would like to hurt Pakistan. Extremists in India ask: shouldn’t one increase the pain of a country — with which India has fought three bloody wars — by aiding its enemies? Perhaps do another Bangladesh on Pakistan some day?
These fringe elements, fortunately, are inconsequential today. Rational self-interest demands that India not aid jihadists. Imagine the consequences if the Central authority in Pakistan disappears or is sharply weakened. Splintered into a hundred jihadist Lashkars, each with its own agenda and tactics, Pakistan’s territory would become India’s eternal nightmare. When Mumbai-II occurs — as it surely would in such circumstances — India’s options in dealing with a nuclear Pakistan would be severely limited.
The Indian Army would be powerless. As the Americans have discovered at great cost, the mightiest war machines on earth cannot prevent holy warriors from crossing borders. Internal collaborators, recruited from a domestic Muslim population that feels itself alienated from Hindu-India, would connive with the jihadists. Subsequently, as the Indian forces retaliate against Muslims — innocent and otherwise — the action-reaction cycle would rip the country apart.
So, how can India protect itself from invaders across its western border and grave injury? Just as importantly, how can we in Pakistan assure that the fight against fanatics is not lost?
Let me make an apparently outrageous proposition: in the coming years, India’s best protection is likely to come from its traditional enemy, the Pakistan Army. Therefore, India ought to help now, not fight against it.
This may sound preposterous. After all, the two countries have fought three-and-a-half wars over six decades. During periods of excessive tension, they have growled at each other while meaningfully pointing towards their respective nuclear arsenals. Most recently, after heightened tensions following the Mumbai massacre, Pakistani troops were moved out of North West Frontier Province towards the eastern border. Baitullah Mehsud’s offer to jointly fight India was welcomed by the Pakistan Army.
And yet, the imperative of mutual survival makes a common defence inevitable. Given the rapidly rising threat within Pakistan, the day for joint action may not be very far away.
Today Pakistan is bearing the brunt. Its people, government and armed forces are under unrelenting attack. South Waziristan, a war of necessity rather than of choice, will certainly not be the last one. A victory there will not end terrorism, although a stalemate will embolden the jihadists in south Punjab, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Muhammed. The cancer of religious militancy has spread across Pakistan, and it will take decades to defeat.
This militancy does not exist merely because America occupies Afghanistan. A U.S. withdrawal, while welcome, will not end Pakistan’s problems. As an ideological movement, the jihadists want to transform society as part of their wider agenda. They ride on the backs of their partners, the mainstream religious political parties like the Jamat-e-Islami and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-Pakistan. None of these has condemned the suicide bombings in Pakistani universities, schools, markets, mosques, and police and army facilities.
Pakistan’s political leadership and army must not muddy the waters, especially now that public sanction has finally been obtained for fighting extremism in Swat and Waziristan. Self-deception weakens, and enormously increases vulnerability. Wars can only be won if nations have a clear rallying slogan. Therefore, the battle against religious extremism will require identifying it — by name — as the enemy.
India should derive no satisfaction from Pakistan’s predicament. Although religious extremists see ordinary Muslims as munafiqs (hypocrites) — and therefore free to be blown up in bazaars and mosques — they hate Hindus even more. In their calculus, hurting India would buy even more tickets for heaven than hurting Pakistan. They dream of ripping apart both societies or starting a war — preferably nuclear — between Pakistan and India.
A common threat needs a common defence. But this is difficult unless the Pakistan-India conflict is reduced in intensity. In fact, the extremist groups that threaten both countries today are an unintended consequence of Pakistan’s frustrations at Indian obduracy in Kashmir.
To create a future working alliance with Pakistan, and in deference to basic democratic principles, India must therefore be seen as genuinely working towards some kind of resolution of the Kashmir issue. Over the past two decades, India has been morally isolated from Kashmiri Muslims and continues to incur the very considerable costs of an occupying power in the Valley. Indian soldiers continue to needlessly die — and oppress and kill Kashmiri innocents.
It is time for India to fuzz the Line of Control, make it highly permeable, and demilitarise it up to some mutually negotiated depth on both sides. Without peace in Kashmir the forces of cross-border jihad, and its hate-filled holy warriors, will continue to receive unnecessary succour.
India also needs to allay Pakistan’s fears on Balochistan. Although Pakistan’s current federal structure is the cause of the problem — a fact which the government is now finally addressing through the newly announced Balochistan package — it is possible that India is aiding some insurgent groups. Statements have been made in India that Balochistan provides New Delhi with a handle to exert pressure on Pakistan. This is unacceptable.
While there is no magic wand, confidence-building measures (CBMs) continue to be important for managing the Pakistan-India conflict and bringing down the decibel level of mutual rhetoric. To be sure, CBMs can be easily disparaged as palliatives that do not address the underlying causes of a conflict. Nevertheless, looking at those initiated over the years shows that they have held up even in adverse circumstances. More are needed.
The reason for India to want a rapprochement with Pakistan, and vice versa, has nothing to do with feelings of friendship or goodwill. It has only to do with survival. For us in Pakistan, this is even more critical.
The writer teaches Physics at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. This article previously appeared in The Hindu and in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.